For almost twenty years, barges have plied the Mississippi, the Illinois, the Ohio, and other rivers to clean them up and also educate people. Living Lands and Waters is an East Moline-based nonprofit which has a floating headquarters and classroom on one barge, and a few others which carry heavy equipment to do what program manager Tammy Becker calls “industrial strength” cleaning. Speaking from a stop on the Ohio River, Becker says in her almost twelve years of service, there's been progress.
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“Definitely. Absolutely. It's a huge difference,” she says. “When we first started, we would be able to take volunteers anywhere on a boat, and we would find stuff. Now, in certain communities, we have to get there days in advance to actually go look for it and see where we are going to take our volunteers. And there are some cities where we don't even go back to anymore.” Becker, who says the crew spends more than half the year living on the barge, says the project has touched twenty states since it began in 1998, with a debut on the Tennessee River next spring.